Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because melanomas have a tendency to spread quickly to other parts of the body.
Melanoma begins when pigment cells in the skin become more abnormal and start to divide without control or order. These abnormal cells can invade and destroy the normal cells around them. The abnormal cells form a growth of malignant tissue (a cancerous tumor) on the surface of the skin.
Most melanomas appear as dark growths similar to moles, but some may be skin-colored.
Melanoma can begin as a new growth on the skin, or develop from an existing mole that changes size, shape, feeling, or color. Please contact your dermatology clinic whenever you notice a new growth on your skin. Our clinic serves patients in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton Roads, Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland, and Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma
Often, the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking.”
In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. For example, it may become hard or lumpy. Melanomas may feel different from regular moles. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed. But melanomas are not usually painful.
Changes in the skin, such as a change in a mole, should be reported to your dermatologist right away.
To save trips to your dermatology clinic, a monthly skin self-exam can be performed by everyone. While doing your exam, please keep in mind the ABCDEs of melanoma detection.
• Asymmetry. Does one half of a mole look different from the other?
• Border. Is the edge (border) of the mole ragged, notched, or blurred?
• Color. Does the mole have a variety of hues or colors within the same lesion?
• Diameter. Is the mole wider than 6mm or 1/4 inch?
• Evolving. Does the mole or skin lesion look different from your other moles or has it changed
in shape color, size or other trait?
If you see a mole or new spot on your skin that has any of the ABCDEs, immediately make a dermatology clinic appointment to see your doctor.
Risk Factors for Melanoma
No one knows the exact causes of melanoma. Dermatologists can seldom explain why one person gets melanoma and another does not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop melanoma. Still, many people with melanoma have no known risk factors.
Studies have found the following risk factors for melanoma:
Dysplastic nevi: Dysplastic nevi are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. Dysplastic nevi are common, and many people have a few of these abnormal moles.
Many (more than 50) ordinary moles: Having many moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.
Fair skin: Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily (these people also usually have red or blond hair and blue eyes) than in people with dark skin.
Personal history of melanoma or skin cancer: People who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of a second melanoma. Some people develop more than two melanomas. People who had one or more of the common skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma) are also at increased risk of melanoma.
Family history: Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. When melanoma runs in a family, all family members should be checked regularly by a dermatologist.
Weakened immune system: People whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplantation, or by HIV are at increased risk of developing melanoma.
Severe, blistering sunburns: People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is more common in people who live in sunny climates, such as Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton Roads, Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland, and Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Stages of Melanoma
If the diagnosis is melanoma, your dermatologist needs to learn the extent, or stage, of the disease before planning treatment. Staging is a careful attempt to learn how thick the tumor is, how deeply the melanoma has invaded the skin, and whether melanoma cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
The following stages are used to describe melanoma:
In stage 0, the melanoma cells are found only in the outer layer of skin cells and have not invaded deeper tissues.
Melanoma in stage I is thin and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.
The tumor is at least 1 millimeter thick and may be ulcerated; the melanoma cells have not spread to nearby lymph nodes.
The melanoma cells have spread to nearby tissues.
The melanoma cells have spread to organs, lymph nodes, or skin far away from the original tumor.
Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may have come back in the original site or in another part of the body.
If you have a skin condition in need of evaluation and treatment, please contact our dermatology clinic at (757) 481-1666. We serve Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton Roads, Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our dermatologists are here to help you.